Early Maladaptive Schemas

Insufficient Self-Control

Do you get bored and restless easily? Do you find it difficult to stick to plans and goals, losing interest and quitting rather than seeing them through? Perhaps you experience impulses that you struggle to keep under control. If you can relate to this, you may have the insufficient self-control schema. 

To help answer any questions you may have regarding this schema, this article will cover the following topics:

  • What the insufficient self-control schema is
  • A description of maladaptive schemas
  • The causes of the insufficient self-control schema
  • Signs of the insufficient self-control schema in childhood and adulthood
  • Ways the insufficient self-control schema can affect a person’s life 
  • Treatment methods for the insufficient self-control schema

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What Is the Insufficient Self-Control Schema? 

The insufficient self-control (or “self-discipline”) schema is one of 18 early maladaptive schemas (EMS)

As its name suggests, this schema is characterized by impulsivity and lack of self-control. As a result, it may be difficult for individuals with this schema to concentrate for long periods, potentially leading to procrastination and abandonment of important goals and plans. 

At the center of this maladaptive schema is a struggle to sit with uncomfortable feelings like anxiety, stress, and frustration. People with this schema may engage in self-sabotaging behaviors to avoid discomfort related to these feelings.

Maladaptive Schemas

The term “schema” relates to the perspective we form of the world, ourselves, and others based on the thoughts, bodily sensations, and memories we carry from our early childhood experiences. 

The relationship/bond we form with our primary caregiver(s) typically significantly impacts our schemas. Therefore, if our early attachment relationships are secure, we tend to develop a healthy, positive perspective of the world. However, if those relationships are insecure, our schemas are more likely to be maladaptive. 

What Causes the Insufficient Self-Control Schema?

Researchers believe that the underdevelopment of the pre-frontal cortex contributes to the insufficient self-control schema. The pre-frontal cortex is an important brain region responsible for managing emotions, disciplining ourselves, and sticking with plans. Effectively, it’s our brain’s “Stop” button in response to impulses. 

Underdevelopment of the pre-frontal cortex may occur when a child experiences neglect or abuse in infancy, or if they are exposed to high levels of consistent stress. 

Moreover, children who aren’t taught self-discipline through rules and boundaries may also have an underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex. Because of this lack of limits, such children might miss out on practicing skills relating to managing discomfort, delaying rewards, and patience. 

Signs of the Insufficient Self-Control Schema

People with the insufficient self-control schema may act on their impulses and regret their decisions later. They typically also:

  • Feel restless or bored.
  • Engage in self-sabotaging behaviors like drinking, smoking, or over-eating.
  • Struggle to continue with a task until completion.
  • Avoid situations that evoke uncomfortable feelings.
  • Flit through different emotions chaotically. 

These behaviors may trigger feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and shame, leading to further self-sabotage.

Insufficient Self-Control in Childhood

Children with insufficient self-discipline struggle to control their impulses. After all, there are rarely any consequences for not doing so. Ultimately, if no one teaches the child self-control, the child simply doesn’t develop such skills. 

Due to a lack of self-control, children with this schema typically have less academic motivation, leading to procrastination and lower grades. 

A child struggling with self-control may also find emotional awareness challenging. This difficulty can lead to avoidance of uncomfortable feelings and emotional outbursts when avoidance isn’t possible. 

Furthermore, due to their lack of motivation and issues with emotional regulation, children with this schema may be prone to dangerous behaviors like binge eating, experimenting with alcohol and drugs, and committing crimes.

Insufficient Self-Control in Adulthood

In adulthood, insufficient self-control manifests as difficulty persevering with plans and goals. Due to this, an adult with this schema may leave a string of unfinished tasks behind them, making professional progression unlikely.

What’s more, adults with the insufficient self-control schema are more at risk of alcohol and drug dependence. This is due to a desire to say “yes” to impulses and the wish to escape from uncomfortable emotions. 

Adults with this schema are also typically less likely to save for the future and manage their money effectively, leading to credit problems and low socioeconomic status. 

Someone with the insufficient self-control schema may struggle with feeling like they can’t control the direction of their life. It’s not that they don’t have desires or goals, it’s more that they don’t know how to achieve them. They may wish to be more disciplined, but repeatedly grapple with controlling their impulses and actions.

Insufficient Self-Control Schema Test

If you’re reading this and thinking, “this sounds like me,” take the free schema quiz on our website. You’ll receive a rating of how highly you score for insufficient self-control, as well as the other 17 schemas. 

How People Cope With the Self-Control Schema

Someone with the insufficient self-control schema may use maladaptive coping strategies to manage their negative beliefs about themself and the world. These methods typically fall into three categories:

  • Avoidance
  • Overcompensation
  • Surrendering


People with this schema may attempt to avoid discomfort when something triggers the beliefs associated with their insufficient self-control. This discomfort could be caused by an uncomfortable situation or overwhelming emotion. 

Their avoidance techniques may include the following:

  • Displaying low motivation levels to start or complete a task, including homework and chores.
  • Engaging in destructive behaviors such as using alcohol or drugs, gambling, or sexual risk-taking.


Interestingly, when someone tries to overcompensate for this schema, they may attempt to practice extreme self-control and discipline. Which, although opposite to the traits of the insufficient self-control schema, also has many negative personal consequences.


Individuals with the insufficient self-control schema may surrender to the idea that the world is chaotic and lacks boundaries. Giving in to such beliefs often leads to the person becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby they flit from one task to another, bowing down to impulses, and living with no clear sense of direction. 

Clearly, surrendering to automatic urges can have consequences such as poor academic attainment, financial difficulties, and low sense of mastery and self-esteem.

Insufficient Self-Control Treatment

It’s possible to change the beliefs associated with the insufficient self-control schema by building on your self-awareness, emotion regulation, and tolerance to discomfort. 

One of the best ways to practice these skills is with a mental health professional. Schema Therapy is a highly effective treatment method for people with the insufficient self-control schema. For more information on this subject, check out our article on Schema Therapy

In the meantime, you can also use self-help exercises such as Stop-Think-Act. This exercise encourages you to think before you act on impulse. Placing a thought between an urge and an action can help prevent maladaptive methods of coping with the beliefs of the insufficient self-control schema.

Karami, Zahra & Massah Choolabi, Omid & Farhoudian, Ali & O’jei, Ameneh. (2015). Early Maladaptive Schemas in Opiate and Stimulant Users. Iranian Rehabilitation Journal, 13. 10-15.

Moffitt, T. E., Arseneault, L., Belsky, D., Dickson, N., Hancox, R. J., Harrington, H., Houts, R., Poulton, R., Roberts, B. W., Ross, S., Sears, M. R., Thomson, W. M., & Caspi, A. (2011). A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(7), 2693–2698. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1010076108

Gaeeni, S., Saravani, S., & Zargham hajebi, M. (2021). Prediction of Insufficient Self-Discipline Schema Based on Achievement Motivation, The Meaning in Life and Difficulties in Emotion Regulation in Students. Psychological Achievements, 28(1), 133-152. https://doi.org/10.22055/psy.2021.33503.2547

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